Purported members of Free Syria Army_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israeli-Arab Hichmat Masarwa’s lawyer essentially asked at the hearing on
Thursday on whether to detain him until the end of the proceedings: What crime
could Masarwa have committed by briefly joining the Syrian rebels in their fight
against President Bashar Assad?
The thrust of Masarwa’s argument at the Lod
District Court, and possibly in the case against him, is that no Israeli Arab
should be prosecuted for joining the rebels, considered allies of the US, in
fighting against the Assad regime, Israel’s enemy, and who the US wants to
remove from power.
Also, Masarwa admitted that he was solicited to carry
out attacks against Israel, but added that he refused, only being interested in
finding his brother. Masarwa’s honesty on this count showed his joining the
rebels had no negative repercussions for his loyalty to Israel, his lawyer
Masarwa’s lawyer went further, saying that not only had he at most
joined up with a group that the US was allied with, but that he had essentially
gotten stuck with the rebels by accident in the amorphous process of looking for
He added that taking part in the military training with them
for a short time was just part of his strategy to gain their trust to help him
find his brother.
The Central District Attorney’s Office on April 10
filed an indictment against Taibe resident Masarwa,
29, charging him with
contact with a foreign agent, illegal military training, and leaving the country
The prosecution, quoting a classified opinion of the Shin Bet
(Israel Security Agency), has said that Israeli Arabs who travel to Syria are
exposed to radical ideology, and could be exploited for a terrorist attack in
Israel due to their knowledge of targets in the country, adding that this
represents a serious national security issue.
Unusually, the indictment
explains in introductory paragraphs why Masarwa’s activities were problematic
and dangerous – something usually assumed simply by alleging that a defendant
committed a crime.
The indictment indicated that his contact with the
Syrian rebels, which includes elements who view Israel as their enemy, could
lead to increased connections between Israeli citizens and such dangerous
The prosecution solidified this argument, noting that even
though Masarwa was not tempted by the rebels to carry out attacks against
Israel, the very fact that the rebels solicited him to carry out such attacks,
and that they illegally gave him military training, made them dangerous foreign
agents and meant that other Israeli Arabs might be convinced to carry out
attacks if they were in the same situation.
The moment that the rebels
solicited attacks against Israel, said the prosecution, was the moment they
became dangerous enemies, even if they were also fighting
Masarwa’s lawyer replied that these suggestions by the rebels were
not serious and were merely to learn about where Masarwa’s loyalties were and to
make sure he was not a danger to the rebels.
Next, the prosecution argued
that proving the main charge against Masarwa, contact with a foreign agent, only
required the fact of contact with foreign agents who had the potential to pose a
danger to Israel’s national security, which it said Masarwa had essentially
The fact that in this particular case it turned out that
Masarwa had not posed a danger, the prosecution said, might have been a defense
against charges of acting as a spy, but was no defense where the main charge was
the lesser crime of contact with a foreign agent.
At the same time, while
the offense in this case might be less serious, the purpose of the charge was to
bring a rapid end to the phenomena of contact with foreign agents that could
unpredictably erupt into a major national security vulnerability, the
The court is due to decide next Sunday whether Masarwa
will remain detained until the end of the proceedings.
With so much of
the case already argued, the decision may reflect the court’s leaning on the
central questions pertaining to the verdict.